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Project Management vs Product Management

written by: Finn Orfano • edited by: Marlene Gundlach • updated: 5/20/2011

Project Management and Product Management have much in common but a manager must learn the distinction between the two and try to avoid any sort of confusion.

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    There is a general tendency to mix up the concept of product management with project management and presumably because they have much in common. It is a fact that product managers quite often have to manage projects as part of their job profile. The humorous aspect is at times the project managers have to barge in to usurp control of the project from the product manager.Project Management vs Product Management 

    To avoid this type of confusion, it is good one learns the distinction between product management and project management. The names may sound similar but there are quite a few sharp differences between product management and project management.

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    Role of Project Manager

    The role of a project manager is to successfully complete an assigned project which entails defining a goal, identifying the scope, being aware of deadline, operating within budget, and fulfilling other laid-down conditions. A project manager will be required to constantly monitor project progress, manage risks, solve problems and coordinate all activities during the tenure of the project. In regards to products, projects are conceived to develop a product, add further features to a product, or create revised versions or accessories to a product. Once the project is complete, the project manager will shift to a different type of project dealing in a substantially different product.

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    Role of Product Manager

    Product managers, on the other hand, assume responsibility for the continued success of an existing product. As soon as the project to develop or build the product is over, the project manager has no further role to play and it is the job of the product manager to look after the product through its entire lifecycle. Of course, fresh projects connected to this product may be undertaken - but with the product manager being at the core of new project - defining the project goals and steering the team to accomplish them.

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    Project Management vs Product Management

    Conflict between a project manager and product manager is only to be expected as the two roles are often at odds with each other. For instance, a product manager may insist on adding certain features to a product based on what the market dictates, while the project manager may stick to the original scope of the project so that it is delivered without time and cost overruns. Of course, it can be argued that the project manager should be unduly keen on getting the project finished on time and within budget without worrying what the market demands.

    But if the product manager and project manager have a good working relationship, there may not be any conflicting situations. A practical-minded project manager will know that the true success of a project is not merely to complete it on time and within budget, but the project should serve the purpose for which it was originally conceived. A sensible product manager will also realize that no meaningful purpose will be served if the project is unduly delayed and does not reach the market at the right time.

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    Importance of Technology

    When dealing with web-based and technology products, the conflict between project and product management becomes sharper and organizations that do not acknowledge the distinction become helpless.

    Though websites have become critical in today’s business, they are still strangely being managed as projects leading to avoidable problems in meeting defined business goals and deploying the right skills to manage this core business function. People seldom realize that while the website has become a core business function, the skills needed to manage it are much more than the ones required while managing a project – for verily the project has already become a product.

    There are some fundamental differences between project management and product management. Products as well as projects need managers but the roles of these two managers are substantially different. As the skills and other prerequisites needed for project management and product management are at variance, the person suited to manage projects may not be the right person to manage produces and vice versa. No single person therefore can assume both the roles of project management and product marketing. It is not possible to find one person who can equally succeed as a product manager and project manager when the two roles are not convergent.

    If the product manager does little or no project management work, then he will have more time to spend for improving product management. The best way to avert clashes between product management and project management is to be clear, even at the first instance, about the scope of roles, extent of responsibilities, operational areas and work functions.

    Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons